Key man: Stephane Sessegnon
Predicted position: 16th
When Paolo Di Canio replaced Martin O’Neill last season, the Italian’s political beliefs stirred a storm on Wearside and in the Premier League, as many questioned Ellis Short’s decision to place the club’s future in the hands of a manager completely unproven at Premier League level.
Fast forward a couple of months, and the decision couldn’t have been more inspired. Not only did Di Canio steer Sunderland to safety after they had seemed destined for relegation throughout Martin O’Neill’s last few weeks in charge, but the Italian has also set about to completely revolutionise the club.
If this summer is anything to go by, Sunderland will be a completely different club by the time their season kicks off on Saturday as they host Fulham at the Stadium of Light.
Having claimed that fans had the right to be ”angry” as “in the past five years this club has spent big money” without having anything tangible to show for it and having blasted their players as some of the most unfit in the league, Di Canio has been busy on and off the training pitch this summer.
During pre-season he put his players through their paces and few teams are likely to be in better physical condition than Sunderland this season, as the Italian stressed the importance to pass his workaholic attitude onto his players.
Away from training bibs, cones and interminable runs, the 45-year-old has brought in a new director of football, Roberto De Fanti, and, perhaps more crucially, a new chief scout, having poached Valentino Angeloni from Inter Milan.
Earlier in his career, Angeloni occupied the same role at Udinese, where he was in charge of one of Europe’s best scouting system which allowed the Serie A club to nurture relatively unknown players into stars, before selling them for top money.
Sunderland’s new chief scout has had his work cut out this summer as the club has welcomed no less than 10 new signings, for a combined cost of £16.3m in transfer fees alone.
Arguably, the most exciting of the new arrivals is Emanuele Giaccherini, the Italy winger who, having impressed at the Confederations Cup, left Serie A champions Juventus for a £6.5m fee to relocate on Wearside. The 28-year-old Italian can either play as left winger or as attacking midfielder and will be desperate to impress Italy coach Cesare Prandelli ahead of the World Cup.
Big things are also expected from former Hull striker Jozy Altidore, a £6m purchase from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, with whom the American scored 31 goals in 39 games in all competitions last season.
Former Basel midfielder Cabral has arrived on a free transfer and his performances in pre-season suggest he could be a very shrewd piece of business, as his passing and vision should provide Sunderland with more creativity in the final third.
French defenders Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge arrived on free transfers from Lazio and Maritimo respectively and will bolster a backline which will also feature the fit-again Wes Brown, while Danny Rose, one of the club’s star performers last season has returned to Spurs after his loan spell.
Vito Mannone, signed from Arsenal for £2m, will replace Simon Mignolet in goal, after the Belgian was sold to Liverpool for £8m, one of the many faces to go through the Stadium of Light’s revolving doors this summer.
Titus Bramble was released, Matthew Kilgallon and Ryan Noble joined Blackburn and Burnely respectively on a free transfer, while James McLean moved to Wigan for £1.5m.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Danny Graham joined Hull, the former making his loan spell permanent for a £2m fee, the latter on loan, while doubts persist over the future of Lee Cattermole, Phil Bardsley and Stephane Sessegnon.
Di Canio has insisted that Sessegnon, one of Sunderland’s most talented players, remains firmly in his plans but a lot could change over the last couple of weeks, while Phil Bardsley would have already been sold, had it not been for a broken foot.
Critics have accused Di Canio of being a “time bomb waiting to go off” and claim the Italian will face a difficult task in gelling together his new arrivals, but the Di Canio revolution has got Sunderland fans genuinely excited for the first time in a long, long while.